The Unlikely Story of the iPad, One Year In

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Jan. 27 marks one year since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad at a special event held at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. At the event, Jobs repeatedly referred to the device as both magical and revolutionary. It seemed hyperbolic at the time, but does it still, after a year of living with the iPad?

For me, the answer is no. The iPad has changed every aspect of my life, from how I do my job to how I communicate with others, and it accomplished all of that in a way that was so natural it left me virtually unaware it was even happening. Some of us may have moved on to greener (only as it pertains to the logo, of course) Android pastures, but those alternatives wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the success of Apple’s original, so let’s take a moment to look back at the year that was for the iPad.

Jan. 27, 2010: The iPad is announced at a special event by none other than Steve Jobs himself, after years of speculation about the existence of an Apple tablet. Consumers will have to wait to get their hands on the device, however, as the Wi-Fi versions are expected to ship within 60 days in the U.S., and the 3G version will come later, with a 90 day release window. Many wonder about whether or not the iPad would take off, myself included.

Mar. 12, 2010: iPad pre-ordering begins from Apple.com for U.S. residents. Much debate ensues about which model to order, and many probably changed their minds more than a few times before finally making a commitment. I still regret not opting for more storage (I have the 16 GB 3G-capable model). The iPad did very well in pre-order sales, but still no one predicts the level of success it will ultimately achieve.

April 3, 2010: The first iPads arrive at customer doors. Being based in Canada, I wasn’t lucky enough to get in on launch-day action, but Dave Greenbaum, who provides an envy-inspiring unboxing video, was. The lucky few who’d pre-ordered well in advance spend the day setting up the iPad, or comparing native iPad apps to scaled versions of iPhone ones . But the real winner is Apple, which reportedly sold roughly 300,000 iPads on launch day alone.

Apr. 30, 2010: The Wi-FI + 3G iPad goes on sale in the U.S., with service initially available only from AT&T. While the 3G-capable iPad originally gets off to a slower start than its cheaper, Wi-Fi-only relative, it now seems to be the more popular version, according to some recent surveys. Shortly after the 3G version’s introduction, the iPad begins to show hints of its impact on mobile OS market share, even before its international release.

May 28, 2010: International iPad sales begin, nearly two months after the device’s initial U.S. launch. Countries that introduced iPad sales on May 28 include Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. The launch was delayed by one month after the initial U.S. response overwhelmed Apple’s supply chain. Just prior to the international launch, analysts estimated that weekly iPad sales began to outpace those of the Mac.

July 20, 2010: Apple announces that 3.27 million iPad were sold during Apple’s third financial quarter of 2010, the first quarter during which it was available. Consider that Apple sold 3.47 million Macs during the same quarter, and that the iPad wasn’t available for the full three month period, and it becomes apparent that at this point the iPad is indeed outselling the Mac.

Aug. 2, 2010: Apple takes third place in global portable computing market share, when the iPad is included. Much of that increased share appears to have been gained at the expense of netbooks.

Aug. 18, 2010: iPad supply finally approaches demand, making device scarcity less of an issue for customers looking to purchase one. Around the same time, the iPad comes to China, reaching a huge new potential market. Apple steps up production to meet the demand incurred by expanding to new markets in an effort to keep supply on pace.

Sep. 1, 2010: Apple announces iOS 4.2 for the iPad, which will finally bring features like multitasking and folders to the device. The long delay between the release of 4.0 for the iPhone and the official announcement of 4.2 for the iPad still strikes me as one of Apple’s biggest missteps with the tablet, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt sales.

Oct. 4, 2010: The iPad is named the fastest-selling electronics device ever, beating out the DVD player by a wide margin. It will later be beaten out by Microsoft’s Kinect, the motion-detecting hands-free Xbox 360 controller, but 3 million units sold in 80 days is still impressive, record-holder or not.

Oct. 18, 2010: Apple sells 4.19 million iPads during its fourth financial quarter of 2010, the first full quarter during which it was available. That brings the total number of iPads sold during 2010 to 7.46 million at that point, and sees iPad revenue eclipse that of the iPod.

Nov. 22, 2010: Apple finally releases iOS 4.2 for iPad and iPhone, bringing folders, multitasking, AirPrint, AirPlay and free Find my iPad to the tablet . The update also changes the function of the physical orientation lock switch, making it a mute toggle, a move that was met with user displeasure.

Jan. 18, 2011: Apple sells 7.33 million iPads during the first quarter of its 2011 financial year, nearly matching sales of the previous two quarters combined and beating most analyst predictions. To say that nearly 8 million iPads is a good first year for a newly-introduced device would be a massive understatement.

Jan. 26, 2011: Apple ranks third overall in global PC sales, if you include the iPad. Whereas previous studies saw it dominating the mobile PC industry, these most recent figures put it ahead in all categories, mobile or otherwise.

With a whole host of Android competitors on the way, is this the high-water mark for the iPad, or can it climb higher still?

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